“He shan’t,” she replied. “I’m stronger than He is.”
This must sound, in so prosaic a summary of it, fantastic, but nothing could be said to be fantastic about Sarah. She was, for one thing, quite the least troublesome of children. She could be relied upon, at any time, to find amusement for herself. She was full of resources, but what these resources exactly were it would be difficult to say. She would sit for hours alone, staring in front of her. She never played with toys—she did not draw or read—but she was never dull, and always had the most perfect of appetites. She had never, from the day of her birth, known an hour’s illness.
It was, however, in the company of other children that she was most characteristic. The nurses in the Square quite frankly hated her, but most of the mothers had a very real regard for Lady Charlotte’s smart little lunches; moreover, it was impossible to detect Sarah’s guilt in any positive fashion. It was not enough for the nurses to assure their mistresses that from the instant that the child entered the gardens all the other children were out of temper, rebellious, and finally unmanageable.
“Nonsense, Janet, you imagine things. She seems a very nice little girl.”
“Well, ma’am, all I can say is, I won’t care to be answerable for Master Ronald’s behaviour when she does come along, that’s all. It’s beyond belief the effect she ’as upon ’im.”
The strangest thing of all was that Sarah herself liked the company of other children. She went every morning into the gardens (with Hortense) and watched them at their play. She would sit, with her hands folded quietly on her lap, her large black eyes watching, watching, watching. It was odd, indeed, how, instantly, all the children in the garden were aware of her entrance. She, on her part, would appear to regard none of them, and yet would see them all. Perched on her seat she surveyed the gardens always with the same gaze of abstracted interest, watching the clear, decent paths across whose grey background at the period of this episode, the October leaves, golden, flaming, dun, gorgeous and shrivelled, fell through the still air, whirled, and with a little sigh of regret, one might fancy, sank and lay dead. The October colours, a faint haze of smoky mist, the pale blue of the distant sky, the brown moist earth, were gentle, mild, washed with the fading year’s regretful tears; the cries of the children, the rhythmic splash of the fountain throbbed behind the colours like some hidden orchestra behind the curtain at the play; the statues in the garden, like fragments of the white bolster clouds that swung so lazily from tree to tree; had no meaning in that misty air beyond the background that they helped to fill. The year, thus idly, with so pleasant a melancholy, was slipping into decay.